Wireless-charging startup uBeam Inc. is facing a potential crisis.
After riding high on media hype and $23.5 million in venture capital, the Santa Monica company is receiving intense scrutiny after a former top employee questioned claims about its technology and voiced concerns about information it was feeding the press in a series of recent posts on his blog, Lies, Damn Lies, and Startup PR.
Though it has not demonstrated a working prototype, five-year-old uBeam has said its ultrasonic wave technology can generate at least 1.5 watts of electricity at a distance of about 13 feet from a transmitter, enough to provide a trickle charge to a mobile phone or other electronic product.
However, experts have questioned whether or not uBeam can fulfill its promises due to the inherent scientific challenges and the fact that the firm has missed two product launch deadlines.
The blog posts by Paul Reynolds, uBeam’s former vice president of engineering, have added fuel to the fire.
“I made it clear during my meetings that I felt that the claims had extended beyond hyperbole and that I had significant issues of the position it was putting myself and team in,” Reynolds said about his discussions with uBeam investor Mark Suster of Santa Monica’s Upfront Ventures, its biggest backer. “I have not called them a sham, but I am posing questions and letting people decide for themselves.”
UBeam did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Suster responded to Reynolds’ criticism on his own widely read blog, Both Sides of the Table, in a May 13 post defending uBeam and Meredith Perry, its 27-year-old co-founder and chief executive.
“Meredith has made claims that she will deliver a working product and I believe her wholeheartedly based on my experience in working with the team over the past 18 months,” Suster wrote.
He did acknowledge, however, that Perry has at times made statements out of “hubris.”
One of those might have come in a February 2015 interview with USA Today in which she was quoted as saying: “UBeam will be there just like you see free Wi-Fi in windows as you walk by shops. It will be everywhere from your local coffee shop to the hotel to theaters to stadiums to airports. You name it.”
Down to wire
With pressure mounting, the company will need to persuade backers to invest again, said Alex Lidow, chief executive of El Segundo semiconductor maker Efficient Power Conversion Corp., whose ultrafast gallium-nitride chips are used in wireless charging products.
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